Down in the River’s Past

By Ronesha Johnson, LABB Environmental Justice Corps Fellow


On July 25, 2012, I attended a workshop to discuss the implementation of an interactive, multifaceted program called “Down by the River”. The workshop was hosted by Kristen Evans, Art-to-Action Coordinator with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. This meeting focused on increasing the awareness about the history of environmental and social justice along the Mississippi River. The plan is to motivate citizens to get involved in dealing with industrial pollution. This project is designed to connect the significant, yet widely unknown, 1811 Slavery Revolt to environmental issues that we deal with today.

The bases of the project is to show the history of oppression dating back to early slavery on the plantations that lined the Mississippi River in Louisiana, to the families of tenant farmers that made a living on their ancestral residences following the abolition of slavery, to the powerful money-hungry refineries that tower over the communities that surround them today.

I am from Shreveport, and even though my hometown is not along the Mississippi River, my community still faces some of the same problems as the refineries in Cancer Alley (the fondly known refinery-row that stretches from New Orleans past Baton Rouge). My community, like so many others, endures constant pollution, environmental injustice, and racial issues. If we educate more people and they understand our cause and motives, then more people will get involved and be excited to help.

Our history plays a major part in our future. I believe that if more people are aware of the struggles of the past and the countless lives that have been, and still are denied basic freedoms, such as the right to live anywhere you want, or the right to clean air, then the fight for environmental justice will truly begin to strengthen.

For many that do not know, the Environmental Justice Movement was stemmed from the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. Even though the name of the movement is different, the values, ideas, and issues are essentially the same. That movement involved all races and ages that came together because of a national injustice. I believe that “Down by the River” will serve as a motivation that many will need in order to fully understand the history of the state and the world. It is my hope that the program will inspire more action from the youth generations.

I would really like to talk to my Great- Grandma and record the story of her experiences during the early 1900’s. After she tells her story I would compare it to the environmental injustice we are dealing with today. By making this connection, people can clearly see how things haven’t changed much at all; it’s the same injustices, just a different issue.

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